Sugary foods and drinks are tasty treats, but they can cause big problems in your mouth. By now, most of us have heard from parents, teachers, and dentists that snacking on candy and sugary drinks contributes to tooth decay. This is bad news if you have a sweet tooth, but thankfully, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate sugar from your diet. Taking simple steps to protect your teeth helps prevent cavities even if you occasionally indulge in sweets and treats.
Understand the Problem Caused by Sugary Foods
What is it about sugary foods that make them more likely to promote tooth decay? Bacteria living in your mouth produce plaque, a sticky film that coats the surface of the teeth. These naturally-occurring bacteria love sugar, and feast on it when you eat something sweet. The bacteria turn sugar into acid as they feed, which then attacks the hard enamel on your teeth. Over time, the damage to your tooth enamel results in the formation of a cavity. Limiting the amount of sugar you eat and brushing your teeth 30 min after eating reduces the amount of sugar on your teeth. This protects your teeth by limiting the production of damaging acid.
Ask Questions Before You Snack
Protect your smile by choosing wisely when you crave something sweet. Here are some questions to ask when choosing a sweet snack:
- Is this full of sugar? If you’re planning to eat a treat with lots of sugar, it’s best to eat it with a meal instead of as a snack. The other foods and beverages you consume during a meal help keep the sugar from sticking to the inside of your mouth. Plus, if you brush 30 min after meals, then you clean off the sugary residue.
- How sticky is this food? Sticky or chewy treats, like licorice, taffy, and dried fruit, stay on your teeth longer than other foods. If you aren’t planning to brush your teeth after eating the treat, choose something that’s not sticky. For example, grapes rather than raisins or chocolate rather than caramel.
- Will this stay in my mouth a long time? Hard candies, lollipops, and full-sugar gum stay in the mouth for a long time. Treats like these coat your teeth with a lingering “sugar bath.” Choosing sugarless gum or sweets that you chew and swallow quickly reduces this problem.
Choose a Satisfying Snack
Sugary snacks should be an occasional treat, not the first thing you turn to when you have the afternoon munchies. If you want to snack between meals, pick healthy snacks to help protect your teeth. The following are good options for healthy and satisfying snacks:
- Raw vegetables
- Unsweetened cereal
- Fresh fruit
- Lean protein, like nuts or turkey
- Whole-grain crackers
- Low- or non-fat dairy, such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
Go for Less Sugary Snacks
Healthy snacks are the way to go, but sometimes you don’t want to give up a donut for a banana. In these cases, you can still make smart choices. A slice of poundcake doesn’t fill your mouth with sticky sugar for as long as saltwater taffy or a chocolate fudge brownie.
Carry a Toothbrush with You
With busy schedules it can be difficult to brush your teeth 30 min after a meal or snack. Carrying a toothbrush with you lets you quickly clean your teeth on the go. Portable toothbrushes are easy to carry and ideal for people on the road during the day, such as insurance agents and sales representatives. With a portable toothbrush, you can visit a restroom after eating to easily remove food and sugar from your teeth. Sometimes portable toothbrushes are disposable and may include built-in toothpaste for added convenience.
Find the Right Toothbrush
People who eat a lot of sweets are likely to have more plaque buildup because the bacteria that produce plaque thrive in a carbohydrate-rich environment. Using the right kind of toothbrush can help prevent plaque buildup. A toothbrush with a diamond-shaped head and triple-action bristles is designed to better reach the hard-to-clean nooks and crannies of your mouth. A powered toothbrush is also a good choice for removing sugar and cleaning your teeth.
If you can’t brush your teeth after eating, consider using a mouthwash instead. A travel size mouthwash makes it easy to rinse your mouth wherever you are, removing as much food and sugar as possible. Even rinsing with plain water is better than nothing if you don’t have other options available.
Chew Sugarless Gum
Sugarless gum is a better choice than full-sugar gum because it doesn’t coat your teeth with sugar. Even better, it actually can help clean your teeth. Chewing gum helps increase saliva production, which helps remove sugar on the teeth. For times when you have a sweet treat and don’t have a toothbrush with you, chewing sugarless gum can help get rid of the sugar on your teeth.
Practice Proper Oral Care
Regular oral care is an important part of preventing cavities for everyone, but especially those who like to indulge in sweet treats.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and the evening.
- Spend two minutes cleaning your teeth each time you brush.
- Floss your teeth once a day.
- Visit your dentist at least once every six months for a professional cleaning and checkup.
- Adding mouthwash to your regular oral care routine can also be beneficial.
Removing sugar from your mouth quickly is the key to preventing tooth decay, even with a sweet tooth. This keeps the bacteria from feasting on the sugar and turning it into acid that damages your tooth enamel. For the sake of your smile, indulge in sugary sweets as an occasional treat and promptly clean your teeth to prevent cavities.
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